If you ever want to feel the pulse of people, I always say, head to the village piazza.

Paola square has never failed me. Shoppers, church-goers, senior citizens – all huddle up in small groups in the morning, to discuss the previous evening’s happenings.

“Eh, did you see what he told Europe? About the smelling coffee. You know why he said that hux? Because coffee is black, like them, is-suwed – he was referring to them – I bet those idiots in Brussels did not get it.”

Nods all round. “And rightly so – we have too much coffee around us”. Cue raucous laughter.

This was followed by utterances to the likes of “Ħaqqhom” (they deserve it), “load ’em and pack ’em on a boat to nowhere”.

On the church parvis, a group of elderly ladies were discussing the issue too: “They are invading us! There’s thousands of them now!”

They were looking over their shoulders, as if the enemy was furtively waiting to attack, with fear and worry etched on their faces.

“They all want to come to Malta, because they know we have a heaven on earth here.”

One ventured to say that, as far as she knew, the boat people land where the wind takes them.

She was chided: “Don’t you believe that. They buy a ticket to come here! They want to eat all our food!”

On the bus stop the people were discussing the same topic. “God forbid I end up with a black man – you can’t even see him in bed except for those white eyes,” said one woman.

“Uh,” came the reply, “They all come here to get a girl pregnant so then they stay here.”

On the bus, the same debate was raging on.

“Ħeq, so what if they kill them if we send them back? Always better than they stay here and kill us!”

And then came a horrific series of curses, swearing, and other unprintable expressions.

Ħeq, so what if they kill them if we send them back? Always better than they stay here and kill us!

The Prime Minister was declared “brave” almost unanimously, except for one: “Hang on! He did not fulfil his promise… Now, if it were Mintoff…”

These conversations did not just take place in Paola, of course. A British friend of mine had her black friend visiting her and the minute she went up on the bus, people started elbowing each other and whispering, until someone blurted out to the Londoner: “You came with the boat this morning, you?” Someone at the back sniggered something about “coffee”.

At a cafeteria, a black American friend of mine was told: “Show me the money first, then I’ll serve you”. And over the past five days, I haven’t stopped receiving messages from acquaintances telling me: “It’s their problem, they fix it. They should have stayed in their own country and rot there.”

Why am I writing these nausea-inducing remarks?

All the comments recorded here kicked off the very minute the Prime Minister announced he was considering the option of sending the migrants who landed on our shores on Tuesday morning back to Libya. That was a sheer violation of human rights and was – to the relief of all those who uphold democracy and humanity – blocked by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Prime Minister’s stand on Tuesday had a ripple effect. People everywhere started not only voicing their worries on the mass migration from Africa; most felt they were given a carte blanche to be blatantly racist, to express their glee at feeding the boat people to the lions.

Dr Muscat later insisted that “the Maltese are not racist people” and that everyone was merely expressing “concern” and that the racist backlash that his actions provoked was just “a tiny minority”. Sadly, he is very, very wrong, as can be attested by what is being said on the street.

Yes, sub-Saharan migration is a problem. But the Prime Minister’s comments were a disservice to our society, already very prone to racist attitudes. If he wanted to take the roaring approach, he should have balanced his comments by making it clear that as citizens of the world, we are duty bound to help people in need.

It would have helped curb the racism-fest if he made it clear from the onset that the options excluded the illegal push-back, and it would have helped if he urged people to empathise with the migrants who have every right to seek refugee status.

A politician’s job is to educate, to create awareness and to encourage restraint. Last week has shown clearly that we desperately need better integration and educational programmes for the migrants, and especially for us.

Judging by the hatred spewed on the streets, the Government needs to issue some form of statement encouraging people to embrace multiculturalism, today before tomorrow.

Twitter: @KrisChetcuti

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